Gov. Herbert’s summit to explore Utah’s energy future
By Brian Maffly
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jan 07 2013 01:01AM
Hundreds of energy industry professionals, scientists and policy experts are gathering in Salt Lake City this week for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s Energy Development Summit, an annual forum addressing some of the energy issues confronting the Intermountain West.
"This conversation will help position Utah for an exciting energy future that embraces a diversity of resources and proceeds with a dual focus on responsible practices and economic growth," Herbert’s office said in a news release.
The summit, which opens Thursday at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center, is an outgrowth of the governor’s 2011 strategic energy plan designed to put Utah at "the forefront of solving the world’s energy challenges."
About 1,200 are expected to attend the two-day event, including 100 expert panelists, all six members of Utah’s congressional delegation and a few protesters unhappy with the state’s reliance on drilling and mining.
For Herbert energy adviser Cody Stewart, the forum is a chance to remind Utahns that their state is becoming a major player in the nation’s energy landscape, thanks to its abundance of natural gas, coal and oil.
"We are not in the top three, but we are top 10 to 12," said Stewart. "We want to emphasize Utah is a leading player. We are getting bigger and bigger."
The forum will be geared toward national policy concerns since two-thirds of the state’s fossil fuel reserves are found on federal land and Utah has become an energy exporting state.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, plan to use the event to draw attention to what they say is the state’s sorry record in developing renewable sources, such as geothermal, solar and wind, and other sources that have a smaller impact on the Earth.
Renewables account for less than 2 percent of Utah’s energy production, according to the governor’s energy plan. When expressed as a share of electrical power generation, these sources represent 4.4 percent, a far smaller piece than Utah’s neighbors except Arizona, according to Matt Pacenza, policy director for Heathy Environment Alliance of Utah.
"When it comes to renewable energy there is no sense of urgency," Pacenza said. "They dismiss renewable sources because they involve subsidies, but there is never a recognition that those forces are at work for fossil fuels."
The group is organizing a rally outside the convention center Thursday to demand greater public investment in clean energy. Meanwhile, HEAL Utah Executive Director Christopher Thomas will join a summit panel on nuclear power, where he is expected to raise questions about the proposed Blue Castle nuclear plant near Green River.
Stewart said mandating power generation to come from particular sources is "not the Utah way." Nor is Herbert hostile to renewable energy, as shown in his willingness to include wind and geothermal developers among energy producers eligible for tax credits, observed Jeffrey Barrett of the governor’s Office of Energy Development.
For better or worse, Utah’s energy portfolio is dominated by fossil fuels because coal and petroleum are the most economical to develop, said Stewart, a former industry lobbyist. He argued the low cost of natural gas and technical challenges — not state policy — are slowing the development of renewables.